Fact Check

To Silence Wikileaks, Hillary Clinton Proposed Drone Strike on Julian Assange?

E-mail leaked by WikiLeaks doesn't demonstrate that Hillary Clinton suggested assassinating founder Julian Assange via a drone strike.

Published Oct. 3, 2016

Hillary Clinton proposed assassinating Julian Assange via drone strike to silence WikiLeaks.

On 2 October 2016, the web site True Pundit published an article reporting that Hillary Clinton had supposedly attempted to order a drone strike on WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in order to "silence" that organization's efforts:

“Can’t we just drone this guy?” Clinton openly inquired, offering a simple remedy to silence Assange and smother Wikileaks via a planned military drone strike, according to State Department sources. The statement drew laughter from the room which quickly died off when the Secretary kept talking in a terse manner, sources said. Clinton said Assange, after all, was a relatively soft target, “walking around” freely and thumbing his nose without any fear of reprisals from the United States ... Immediately following the conclusion of the wild brainstorming session, one of Clinton’s top aides, State Department Director of Policy Planning Ann-Marie Slaughter, penned an email to Clinton, Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills, and aides Huma Abebin and Jacob Sullivan at 10:29 a.m. entitled “an SP memo on possible legal and nonlegal strategies re Wikileaks.”

“Nonlegal strategies.” How did that phrasing make it into an official State Department email subject line dealing with solving Wikileaks and Assange? Why would the secretary of state and her inner circle be discussing any “nonlegal strategies” for anything whatsoever? Against anyone? Shouldn’t all the strategies discussed by the country’s top diplomat be strictly legal only? And is the email a smoking gun to confirm Clinton was actually serious about pursuing an obvious “nonlegal strategy” proposal to allegedly assassinate Assange? Numerous attempts were made to try and interview and decipher Slaughter’s choice of email wording, however, she could not be reached for comment. Insiders said Slaughter is keeping a “low profile” in Princeton, NJ until she is nominated for a position in Clinton’s cabinet if the Democrat is elected in November. Likewise, True Pundit attempted to contact Mills, Abedin, and Sullivan for their perspectives on this story. None commented on the record.

The claim might not have seemed so incredible to some readers, as Assange himself had previously voiced the possibility of his being assassinated by drone, although even in his imaginings the chances of such an action (initiated by the CIA, not by Hillary Clinton) were not likely:

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange fears he will be sent to the United States, where he could face the death penalty, and even worries that he will be targeted by a CIA drone.

Assange, who faces extradition to Sweden on rape charges and has been holed up at the Ecuadorean Embassy in London since 2012, said in an interview with The Times Magazine that things have become so dangerous that he cannot even poke his head out of the embassy’s balcony doors.

"There are security issues with being on the balcony; there have been bomb threats and assassination threats from various people."

On the possibility of being “droned” by the CIA, Assange told the magazine: “I'm a white guy. Unless I convert to Islam, it's not that likely that I'll be droned, but we have seen things creeping toward that.”

First of all, the only cited source documenting that Hillary Clinton had ever suggested (even in jest) that a drone strike could take out Julian Assange was "sources at the State Department," a vague and anonymous reference that does not yield to verification. Second, the claim that Hillary Clinton or her aides had either hinted or directly ordered remote assassination of Assange in November 2010 focused on a questionable interpretation of the terms "legal and nonlegal strategies" that appeared in the subject line of e-mails sent by Anne-Marie Slaughter, Director of Policy Planning at the U.S. Department of State and released via WikiLeaks' first searchable Hillary Clinton e-mail archive in March 2016.

The e-mails in question purportedly followed Clinton's proposing that Julian Assange be targeted by a drone strike:


However, the text of those e-mails (located here and here) neither said nor implied anything of the sort:

From: Mills, Cheryl D <MillsCD@state.gov>
Sent: Wednesday, November 24, 2010 5:36 AM
To: Slaughter, Anne-Marie; H Cc: Abedin, Huma; Sullivan, Jacob J Subject:
Re: an SP memo on possible legal and nonlegal strategies re wikileaks

Following this morning's meetings I activated my four legal eagles on the SP staff — Peter Harrell, Jen Harris, Bill Burke White, and Catherine Powell (that includes two law profs and two Yale law grads who certainly could be law profs). They in turn reached out to people at the Berkmann Center at Harvard and other experts, working together with Alec Ross. Alec has been particularly useful in terms not only of his knowledge but also his sensitivity to how anything we might try to do could impact our own internet freedom agenda. The result is the attached memo, which has one interesting legal approach and I think some very good suggestions about how to handle our public diplomacy. AM

Anne-Marie Slaughter
Director of Policy Planning
U.S. Department of State

The thrust of True Pundit's article hinged almost entirely on claiming that the term "nonlegal" essentially means the same thing as "illegal," and much of the article's content delved into discussing why illegal methods for dealing with a WikiLeaks issue would be improper. However, "nonlegal" also bears a distinctly different meaning than "illegal"; the former can be used to distinguish discussions dealing with the law and legalities from discussions that don't involve legal matters:

nonlegal wikileaks assange clinton

Moreover, Anne-Marie Slaughter's only reference to "nonlegal" methods were some "very good suggestions about how to handle our public diplomacy" (included in an unavailable appended memo). Unless "public diplomacy" is reasonable code for "drone strike," the most logical reading of the e-mail chain would be that the meeting referenced in the e-mail explored what legal actions could be taken to minimize damage from WikiLeaks, with a secondary focus on "nonlegal" (i.e., not related to law enforcement or litigation) approaches such as diplomacy and public relations.

On 4 October 2016 Clinton answered a question about whether the rumor was accurate, responding that she didn't "recall any joke ... [reference to targeting Assange with a drone] would have been a joke"


Conway, Madeline.   "Clinton: I Don’t Recall Joking About Droning Julian Assange."     Politico.   4 October 2016.

BBC.   "Julian Assange Sex Assault Allegations: Timeline."     5 February 2016.

Fox News.   "Wikileaks’ Assange Stays Indoors, Fears CIA Drone Attack."     30 August 2015.

Kim LaCapria is a former writer for Snopes.